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"When I Choose the Proper Time, I Will Judge Uprightly" (Psalms 75-77) August 26-28

Psalms 75 and 76 are both songs of reassurance of God's justice when things seem to be going so well for the wicked—no doubt sung in later years for encouragement when evil enemy nations encroached. "In some ways this psalm [75] may be regarded as God's answer to the questions presented in Ps 74" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 75). There Asaph had asked: "Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand?" (Psalm 74:10-11). Here God says: "When I choose the proper time, I will judge uprightly" (75:2).

Though no attribution is given to God as the One speaking, it is obvious from what is said that He is being quoted. God further says that even when severe distress engulfs the world, He is in control: "When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady" (verse 3, NRSV). "He is the great Judge-Ruler, who will not permit wickedness, evil powers, and the arrogant to undermine the foundations of his kingdom. The quaking of the earth and peoples is a metaphor for the erosive effects of evil. Immorality undermines the stability of earth and society...[but] the Lord proclaims that he graciously upholds his creation" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 3).

"Thematic parallels to the song of Hannah (1Sa 2:1-10) are numerous" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 75)—particularly in her statement, as a representative mother in Israel, that her "horn is exalted in the Lord" while God deals with her enemies. The horn is a biblical symbol for power and strength.

God here in Psalm 75 warns the wicked to stop arrogantly boasting and flaunting their horn (verses 4-5). Asaph adds that exalting oneself or seeking exaltation from or through other people on earth is vain—as God has ultimate control over who is demoted or promoted in the world's kingdoms (verses 6-7; compare Daniel 4:25b, 32b; Romans 13:1). This applies to our own individual circumstances as well. While there are practical steps we can take to achieve advancement, promotions and leadership opportunities—be it at work, school, church or community—the most important strategy is to rely on God for His direction and help. For "unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1).

Incidentally, it is interesting to note the cardinal directions mentioned in Psalm 75:6-7—or, rather, the one not mentioned. Exaltation does not come from east, west or south but from God. This would appear to identify God with the north, as other passages do—that is, either the Temple Mount on the north side of Jerusalem or the farthest north in heaven (compare Psalm 48:2; Isaiah 14:13).

From His throne, God is sovereign throughout the earth. And, as Psalm 75:8 makes clear, He has destined abasement through severe judgment for those who persist in wickedness. The imagery of the winecup of judgment here is also found in other verses (see Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:10; 16:19).

Asaph knows that as God's servant he will live forever—and will throughout eternity continue to sing praise to God (Psalm 75:9). Then in verse 10 God speaks again to conclude that the horns of the wicked will be cut off (compare the imagery in Zechariah 1:18-21) while the horns, again representing strength, of the righteous will be exalted (compare Psalm 89:17; 92:10-11)—meaning, in concert with Asaph's previous words, for eternity to come.

Psalm 76, another song of Asaph, is "a celebration of the Lord's invincible power in defense of Jerusalem, his royal city. The psalm is thematically related to Ps 46; 48; 87" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 76). Like Psalm 75, this psalm would provide encouragement when enemy forces seemed unstoppable.

Jerusalem is referred to here in the abbreviated form of Salem (Psalm 76:2; compare Genesis 14:18). The victory over military forces God achieved at Jerusalem (Psalm 76:3) concerns God delivering His own oppressed people from an assault there, as the rest of the psalm makes clear.

Asaph declares God "more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey" (verse 4). The expression "mountains of prey" is interpreted by the next verse: "The stouthearted [referring to the invading enemies] were plundered." Mountains are often symbolic in Scripture of kingdoms or nations. These enemy mountains, seeking to prey upon God's people, have themselves become prey. As God elsewhere says to Israel of the end time: "All those who devour you shall be devoured; and all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall become plunder, and all who prey upon you I will make a prey" (Jeremiah 30:16; compare also Isaiah 31:4).

Though speaking of the victory as already accomplished in most of Psalm 76 (see verses 3, 5-6, 8-9), Asaph was prophesying here of the future (compare verses 10, 12). On one level the prophecy could be looking forward to the overthrow of Sennacherib's army outside Jerusalem in Hezekiah's day (see 2 Kings 19:35). Yet the main focus is God's deliverance of the Jews there in the end time (see Zechariah 12:8-9)—as Psalm 76 shows that the rescue is part of God's deliverance of "all the oppressed of the earth" (verse 9) when He breaks the spirit of rulers in an awesome show of power to "the kings of the earth" (verse 12). This could also represent God's victory in delivering the people of spiritual Zion, His Church, from the unseen spiritual rulers of this world bent on destroying them.

Fear of God, mentioned in three verses in this psalm (7, 8, 11), is an important theme here. "For the righteous, the fear of God is a response of awe, wonder, adoration, and worship. For the wicked, the fear of God is terror, for there is no escape from Him (14:5)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 76:7).

Even the wrath of man directed against God will actually serve to praise and glorify Him (verse 10). This is because human attempts to fight against God (compare Revelation 19:19) will only demonstrate how irresistibly powerful He is (17:14). God in such cases counters with His own wrath. "The remainder of wrath" (Psalm 76:10), indicates "that particular judgments do not exhaust his wrath; a remainder is left to deal with other hostile powers" (Zondervan, note on verse 10). Indeed, God will deal with all hostile powers when Jesus Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God throughout the earth.

The middle phrase in the superscription of Psalm 77, which may be part of the postscript of Psalm 76, says "To Jeduthun"—the last of three occurrences of this designation in the psalms (see also the titles of Psalms 39 and 62). As mentioned regarding the previous occurrences, Jeduthun was one of David's three music directors, apparently synonymous with Ethan, who was over the Merarite performers (i.e., of the Levitical sub-tribe of Merari), as Asaph led the Gershonite choir and Heman led the Kohathite performers (compare 1 Chronicles 6:16, 33, 39, 43-44; 15:17, 19; 16:41-42; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15).

In great duress over some unnamed circumstance, Asaph has poured out his heart to God, knowing God has heard him (verse 1). He speaks in verse 2 of "the day of my trouble." While seemingly personal, this may, like some of the other psalms in this section, reflect a time of national tragedy—particularly considering the focus of the end of the psalm on God's past intervention for Israel.

Asaph has lifted his outspread hands to God in prayer through the night as he just can't get comfortable or go to sleep (verses 2, 4a). Thinking about God is only troubling to him (verse 3) because he doesn't understand why God is permitting or causing what is happening. He doesn't know what to say (verse 4b).

In verses 5-6, Asaph is trying to put the present situation into perspective by thinking on the past. Yet this engenders the question of why God is not showing mercy as He has before. In its note on verses 7-9, The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "The formulation of questions has a therapeutic effect.... These questions go from the present situation of rejection (v. 7) to the cause: the Lord's 'anger' (v. 9). In asking these questions and in expressing his doubts, the heart of the psalmist comes to rest; for he knows the God of Abraham...will remain faithful to 'his promise.'"

Though in turmoil, Asaph determines to recall and meditate on God's mighty intervention of times past (verses 10-13). If the added italicized "is" in verse 13 (NKJV) is dropped, as it could be, the clause here, starting with the end of the previous verse could read, "...and talk of Your deeds—Your way, O God—in the sanctuary." The next line reflects what he would say: "Who is so great a God as our God?"

Through the remainder of the psalm, Asaph thinks about God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the days of Moses and Aaron (verses 14-20). Asaph's mind is moved as he meditates. "Unconsciously he has jumped from (a) talking about God, to (b) talking to God. Then he finds himself in prayer (c) confessing God's greatness, and finally (d) he seizes on the fact that of course...he belongs to that people whom God has already redeemed" (George Knight, Psalms, comments on verses 12-15).

Asaph concludes the psalm with declarations of God's sovereignty over the "waters"—a symbol of chaotic, threatening forces. The waters here are viewed as the thunderclouds of storm (verses 17-18) and the mighty sea, which God divided to lead his people through (verses 16, 19-20). "Lost in contemplation of the greatness of God, the poet seems thoroughly distracted from his pain. He does not mention it again, not daring to compare it to the greatness of the Almighty" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 20). God is in control, and His aim is to deliver His people—as He surely will, in the proper time as He determines.

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